Red Seas under Red Skies

Author : Scott Lynch

Disclaimer 1SPOILER ALERT
Disclaimer 2 – I had no frame of reference for comparison in the previous book. This time I do. And I intend to make full use of the privilege. There will be multiple references to “The Lies of Locke Lamora”, hereby abbreviated TLoLL.


I started this as soon as I was done with book #1 in the Gentleman Bastard series and that’s saying something about how captivated the first book’s world building left me that I didn’t want to get out of it. This, the 2nd book in the series was very good as well. Did I like it as Much as I did Book 1? No. But it still stood well on its own. Feels familiar to how Well of Ascension was in comparison to The Final Empire (Mistborn #2 and #1 respectively.)
If TLoLL had us following Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen solely on land, this time their time was distributed between both land and sea. The book opens to a present-scene of confrontation and double-crossing (Scott Lynch wastes no time) and then we’re taken to a time when their previous story ended and this one began – aboard a ship sailing for Tal Verrar from Camorr. As in TLoLL, here as well, we have multiple timelines being narrated – a timeline of preparation for their activities and setting the stage for the “play” they mean to enact around unsuspecting characters and another timeline 2 years hence where the trickery is afoot. The main antagonists, so to speak, are Requin & Selendri and Maxilan Stragos and Merrain.
Initially all Locke and Jean wanted to do was hoodwink Requin at the Sinspire and escape, but they find themselves unwillingly at the mercy of Stragos after the latter poisons them and enlists them as his contractors, giving them the task of stirring up trouble from the seas and bringing back piracy to Tal Verrar, so that he, Stragos could defeat them using his navy and seem victorious in the eyes of the city, so as to seem in control as opposed to his current shunted standing. This puts quite the dent in Locke and Jean’s plans, so they have to improvise their plans to factor this new development and Locke decides to do what he does best – pretend to be a double agent, trying to gain the favors of Requin to beat Stragos, who the Master of the Sinspire does not like either. 
Following this brief bit of initial setup on land, the duo are sent to sea to pretend Captain and First Mate of a ship called The Red Messenger, assisted and directed behind the scenes by an actual seamaster, Caldris. Unfortunately Caldris dies while they are at sea and they are found out by the crew and mutinied. 
This is the first of admittedly very few hints of convenience I felt Scott Lynch exploited as he introduced Captain Drakasha and her ship, the very people who the Archon needed as pawns for his plan, into the mix, with no real struggle on Locke and Jean’s part except a few hours of sailing on a boat.
Aside from that and a couple other mild issues, I felt the overall plot was well done and tied together. The finesse of TLoLL was missing as was a lot of the banter and Father Chains, Calo, Galdo and Bug were missed. There was also a gaping hole in the non-usage of an “ally” they picked up as they were training for their tower-jumping escapade at The Sinspire. But I’m sure that was a calculated move.

Locke had set himself up to be the primary antihero in TLoLL. Here we see Locke a lot in the background as compared to Jean. Then again, this can be argued to be a plot feature illustrating Locke’s mood and possible post-trauma effects inflicted upon him because of his losses and his wounds. To that end, the romance between Jean and Ezri Delmastro and the focus on their relationship was a pleasant introduction and read; not at all overly mushy as these scenes tend to be. What I also liked was how Scott gave the series a strong female character in Drakasha. I loved the chapters where was in focus and her way of balancing a ship as well as her role as a mother. The touch of insistence that a cat and a woman were necessary for a smooth sailing and several minute details were also very welcome.


One thing I noticed particularly was how we see Stragos’ mind at work in one of the chapters – his perspective was given importance. We’ve been used to seeing only the protagonists’ perspectives thus far. This also set the tone for Merrain as a far more important player than she portrayed herself to be, which was evident when she escaped despite Jean and Locke’s efforts and plans. 
Another thing that I loved was the consistency in the relationship between Jean and Locke; they remained thick as …well..thieves throughout, even with that one minor argument they had that they bounced back from relatively quickly, ego suppressed and all that. Well done. And Locke’s act in the final scene was lovely. Sealed the deal and all that.

I won’t tell you how the book ends for two reasons – If you’ve read it, you already know. And if you haven’t, I’d rather you discover this bit for yourself. I can’t rob you of that pleasure even if you did sign up for the spoilers.

I’m definitely looking forward to reading The Republic of Thieves for 3 reasons – The Bondsmagi of Karthain, Sabetha’s arc and to see if Locke escapes the clutches of death again.

PS – Learnt a lot about ships and nautical terms in this book. Good, that.

Subjective Rating: 4.0/5.0.

J is for Jealousy [#AtoZChallenge]

Subbu’s jaw dropped.

“And I got this for my last birthday”, Mani said as he produced a white, shiny Hot Wheels car. “And this one was for my previous 95 out of 100 in Social Studies”. Another item emerged from the bag that seemed to hold an infinite supply of toys – this time a GiJoe. It was the short break hour and Mani had decided to exhibit his collection atop Prema ma’am’s table that day to his huddled group of gawking, incredulous classmates. “Mani”, Subbu asked when he finally found his voice, “What does your father do?”. This endowment of seemingly hundreds of toys could only be justified if Mani’s father owned a toy shop. “Don’t you know da?”, Mani asked with a mixture of condescension and genuine puzzlement, “Your father and my father are colleagues at the same company.”. The knot in Subbu’s chest tightened and he found himself looking at the bench lost in thought about the unfairness being meted out to him by life, his parents and everyone. He had scored a lot of 95s as well. Mostly in English, but it counted, didn’t it? He was shaken from his reverie by Murugan who was by now staring daggers at Mani. “He thinks he’s some sort of big shot just because he has more toys than us. We’ll see who’s smiling when something goes missing.”. Subbu didn’t like the glint in Murugan’s eyes but he didn’t want to antagonise his friend, so he meekly nodded hoping his face didn’t betray his conscience.  Mani had just finished displaying a tiny He-Man eraser (that held in an outstretched plastic hand a small, but sharp plastic sword of sorts, sharp enough to prick any of Subbu’s mental balloons of happiness, if any were left), when Prema ma’am walked into the classroom and Mani hastily replaced all the objects back into his “akshayapatra” of a bag and the rest of them hurriedly took their places in their seats.

Later during lunch, Subbu spotted Mani frantically looking for something. He had an inkling as to what might have happened but he innocently went and asked the worried boy, “Mani, are you searching for something?”. Mani looked up ashen-faced at Subbu and said, “My brand new kaleidoscope, Subbu. Have you seen it?”. Subbu thought Murugan might have something to do with this missing tube of mirrors but he shook his head vigorously…perhaps a little too vigorously, for Mani surveyed him for a few seconds as though the location of the missing cylinder was marked with an “X” on Subbu’s forehead, before resuming his search under the desks. The latter stayed there a few more minutes watching the former struggle before sympathetically patting him on his back and walking away. 

As he moved away from the seeker he saw Murugan, standing a few benches away, looking at Mani with a satisfied expression on his face. “See how he pitifully searches for his Parker Pen”, he smirked with a whisper once Subbu was within earshot. Subbu furrowed his eyebrows – “Parker ..Pen?” he thought, but not aloud. “Now Mani has lost two items, only one of which he has noticed missing”, he brooded. “Subbu?”, Murugan enquired, “Do you think we should keep it for ourselves or break it?”. Subbu frowned. Of course, he had been jealous of how many more things Mani had and maybe a tiny part of him had revelled at the thought of Mani grappling with the loss of one of his prized possessions that he had “shown off”, but was he, Subbu, an evil person? What would Harry Potter do? He pondered the paths his heroes from fiction and mythology might take if faced with such moral questions and decided with a resolve as a wave of shame washed over him – “No”, and prepared himself to patronise Murugan for his action; but the thief had vanished out of sight and Subbu’s eyes wandered back to a still worried-looking Mani. He walked back to the bemoaner and said with the tone of a savior, “Don’t worry Mani, I’ll help you find your pen…err..telescope.”, he corrected himself as Mani looked at him quizzically. “Kaleidoscope”, he was corrected. Subbu adopted a loftier expression all the while muttering to himself about having overcome jealousy and being the bigger man and yet being corrected by ungrateful monsters. As he bent under the desk himself, he wondered if he should bring up the topic of adequate compensation with his parents and ran a possible scenario over in his head about how that conversation with his father might go –

He would gingerly broach the topic – “Appa, Mani had brought 4 HotWheels cars today.”
Appa would remark only partially listening – “Mm Hmm.”
He would repeat the premise for father’s benefit.
Appa would feign interest this time and look at him as if to wonder why this sentence was being posed to him.
Then he would ask for an increase in number of cars for himself and let the chips fall where they may. He had no idea how Appa would react to this new man with a spine, but he was prepared to try, for justice’s sake.

For the second time that day, he jerked back to reality only to notice that he had wandered off to the opposite row of benches on his knees, all the while, trying to look for Mani’s kaleidoscope, obviously unsuccessfully. As he prepared to abandon the search, he spotted a glint of something shiny by the trash can situated at the left end of Prema ma’am’s table. He rushed to it and picked it up even as it came undone in his hand, the glass pieces smashed to smithereens. It would seem that in Mani’s haste to pick up his things, this tube had fallen to the ground and scattered. He brought the remnants of the tube and the bad news back to Mani. The boy took one look at the glass pieces and started weeping profusely, spluttering pieces of speech from which Subbu gathered that Mani had had to sweep the entire house to get his Appa to buy him this what-was-once-a-fine-bangle-piece-displayer. Subbu felt even more sympathetic towards this boy and thought he should probably, at this point, not add insult to injury by enquiring if Mani had noticed anything else missing from his Bag of Wonders. By this time, two more of their classmates had arrived by Mani’s side and had begun consoling him. Subbu felt confident about the moral support Mani was receiving and decided to confront Murugan immediately, chide him, maybe teach him a lesson or two about the virtues of honesty and the horridness of jealousy and get the pen back to Mani before the latter even discovered its loss – surely the poor boy had suffered enough already.

His thoughts and actions were interrupted by Prema ma’am walking in again with an expression of what he could only surmise was absolute rage. She slammed the notebooks she was holding onto her table and dust from 1947 rose up to fill the air in the classroom, it seemed.

“Everyone take your bags and keep them on your desks”, she said, in an icy tone. Subbu blinked and looked around at his classmates who looked equally clueless.

“One of you has stolen my Parker Pen and I’m going to find out who.”

The Lies of Locke Lamora

Author : Scott Lynch

I find myself shaking my head in amazement, shuddering as I write this. This was one hell of a journey. I started this having finished a few Sanderson books and my head was full of magic systems and I somehow led myself to believe that this book was along those same lines. But as I started reading and finding no hints of any visible sorcery (atleast in the first half), I thought I would be disappointed, but the disappointment never came. I just felt more and more sucked in with each passing page.
Right from the get-go in fact, when “Father” Chains is introduced to the would-be Thorn of Camorr, the grasp of a promised-roller coaster held on tight and never let go. Locke’s weaving in and out of disguises as Lucas Fehrwright, a Midnighter and everything in between, and his camaraderie with the Gentleman Bastards – Calo, Galdo, Bug and Jean was everything I could have wanted in a book if not more. All the minor and “boss” antagonists (Conte, the Capas )are given a believable amount of power and matched well against the protagonists which is more than I can say for many other books which leave you feeling a sense of disbelief at the protagonist’s sudden victory or his/her unfair ease.
Scott Lynch’s writing style of alternating between the present-day-plot and the trainings-in-the-past make for an interesting experience as well. Over the chapters you come to recognise that what he talks about as an episode or a learning in the past will be relevant almost immediately in the chapters to come as an instrument in the present. The language is very rich as well. At many times I found myself marvelling over the exquisite (yet not overly grandiose) construction of sentences.
The story is compelling on its own merit as well, even without the rich characters and detailed world building (Shades Hill, Perelando etc) . We start off with the fleshing of characters, followed by a well crafted masterplan of theft, all of which pale smoothly when you realise what the story is really about – Revenge

I loved it.

Favorite quotes –

(Reveal)
Such was the custom with every note that was sealed in blue with nothing but the stylized sigin of a spider for its credentials. : Chapter 9

(Revenge)
“When you see the Crooked Warden,” said Locke, twisting something in his hands, “tell him that Locke Lamora learns slowly, but he learns well. And when you see my friends, you tell them that there are more of you on the way.” : Chapter 10

(Healing)
“You are learning that what you require and what your frame may endure can be two very different things.” : Chapter 12

Subjective rating: 5.0/5.0

Warbreaker

Author : Brandon Sanderson

“My life to yours, my Breath become yours.”
Breath and colors. That’s what this book uses as tools in an articulate game of War. The central characters are Siri, Vivenna, Susebron, Vasher, Nightblood, LightSong and Denth. None of these names mean anything to you if you haven’t read the book yet. Anyway, the book starts off with the attempt of a treaty fulfilment between Idris and Hallandren, the two cities at the center of this story, the former a minor kingdom desiring to appease the latter. To this end, a princess is to be sent from Idris to Hallandren so a royal heir can be obtained to take over and continue the current God King’s rule. But the king of Idris sends the youngest of his daughters Siri as opposed to the eldest, Vivenna who should have rightfully been sent. This in itself wouldn’t have been a problem, but the political unrest that is already present in Hallandren as a result of resident Idrian rebels is what kickstarts the rest of the drama that unfolds. 
And that’s what this really is at the end of the day – a political drama with a magic system that has two feet to stand on its own but when I compare it to Mistborn, the system that revolves around Breath and “Awakening” really didn’t appeal to me all that much. It was a good story, with its highs and lows and suspense-points, but I didn’t have the same kind of high at the end as I did when I finished The Hero of Ages.
What I did enjoy however was the plentiful banter between sets of characters – Lightsong and Blushweaver, Denth and Tonk Fah, Nightsong and Vasher (such as it was). I loved the way he grew the relationship between Siri and Susebron from one of one-sided fear to the stable relationship it culminated in (not a spoiler). And I will say this for Sanderson – he does not leave many loose ends. I’d have liked to know if Fafen ever did anything of consequence , for example. But that is still an itch that is solely in my mind and has no bearing as far as the story is concerned which tied together well enough. 
All in all, a good read. 

Subjective Rating : 4.0 / 5.0

A Man Called Ove

Author : Fredrik Backman

Yes, there are spoilers.

A Man called Ove wouldn’t cry. 
Or atleast he wouldn’t cry as much as I did in more than a few parts in the book.
I thought a Man called Ove didn’t deserve the hype it got, till I finally was handed a copy of the book myself and I gave in. And now it deserves all the accolades it’s received and more. And when you’re done with the book as well, you will remember Ove for all the times he was more human as a fictitious character than the humans we are in today’s world –
When he places his hand on the tombstone…and talks longingly to a wife who was only a memory and a stone now.
When he shows his dad what stuff he’s made of when he decides to turn in the wallet at the station.
When he’s had enough gives Tom what he’s been asking for for a long time.
When he stands up the “Suits” and builds his house all by himself.
When he runs into a burning house opposite his and makes that choice over saving his own skin.
When he loves a girl who can take care of him and loves her more when she can’t.
When he takes a neighbor and her children to the hospital when her husband falls off a ladder, albeit begrudgingly and punches a clown at the place. 
When he teaches her driving.
When he helps a boy fix his bicycle for a girl who might one day become his girlfriend.
When he helps a woman retain the care of a husband (who’s also the closest thing he had to a best friend) whose health is deteriorating and fights off more “Suits” in the process.
When he earns the love of a 3 year old and a 7 year old.
When he takes in a son who’s kicked out of his house by his father for being a “bender” and later helps them reconcile.
When he takes care of an entire locality and sticks to his guns every time…because principles.

I know I’ve omitted a lot of little things that tugged at me. I loved this book a lot and I have no doubt that I’ll read it again. And again. Maybe I’ll read it in a tiny cafe. Maybe on a bus in Spain. Or by a window in my house. But I won’t read it while driving. And definitely not while driving down my road.

Because vehicular traffic is prohibited in the residential area.

And to the friend who slipped me this book and urged me to read it. Thank you.

Subjective Rating : 5.0/5.0

Writing Prompt #1

[WP] You live in a martial art anime universe where the characters announce their moves before executing them. As a deaf character, you announce with sign language, which leads to resentment among your defeated opponents of your “underhanded sneak attacks”.

I’m no stranger to the scowls…to the angry eyes, to the visible yells..But it doesn’t make it any easier. Is this what success is supposed to feel like? I thought winning was a feeling your body celebrated, but this doesn’t feel like celebration. It feels like everytime I win, I sink a little lower into a hole labelled with my initials, a hole I realised I was born in when I figured out that the silence I experienced perpetually was exclusive to me in my family of 10.

My mother, for her part, never made me feel any different. She’d started training me as soon as I was old enough to crawl (she said). Our system of education was unique. We were educated not in Maths or Science as the rest of the World was, but in the form of Kudo. Kudo was the martial arts technique handed down to us by generations of Japanese warriors before us. Our ancestors prided themselves on the art of “lightness”. The best Kudo practitioners were those who knocked down their opponents with the simplest of moves and with seemingly, no contact at all – for example, an expert Kudo move would be a light, but rapid sweep of the foot an inch away from the opponent and the net effect on an amateur opponent would be the equivalent of a blast of wind to the torso blowing him away. Such masters of the technique were awarded the Jupiter belt. But my world of silence helped me concentrate and when I was practicing Kudo, I was in a zone of complete focus. Consequently, at age 7, I was the youngest recipient of the Jupiter Belt.

I shook out of my reverie and looked around at the near-empty, dilapidated dojo. It had been 3 years since the award ceremony to today – the day of the tournament. A giant board hung limply at a corner, but the LED lights declared the next and final round in a bright and bold fashion – “Sushima vs Tenma”.

The road so far had not been easy. Not from a fighting perspective of course; I was better than most of the fighters here, but it always seemed like I was skirting a line – a line that all that stood between “Winner” and “Disqualified”. It didn’t help that my opponents in most of the prior matches kept declaring that they couldn’t understand the moves I was signalling to them – and what else could I do? I could try speaking it out and they Still wouldn’t understand it any better because of my ineptitude in the vocal department! And it wasn’t as if they were being fair to me! I was interpreting their voiced pre-actions via lip movements! That put me at a disadvantage as well! Didn’t they ever consider that? Of course not. “The hubris of the defeated”. They couldn’t come to terms that a 10 year old was beating them and by a margin. Of course they would blame my way of signalling.

[To be continued…]

The Emperor’s Soul

Author : Brandon Sanderson

After finishing the Mistborn trilogy, I was hungry for more of Sanderson’s work, but didn’t want to dive into another series right off the bat and a friend suggested I read this – The Emperor’s Soul and it did not disappoint.
The story is about a young “forger” named Shai, who starts off being captured by the royal faction of a kingdom in the land of Sel whose ruler, Emperor Ashravan, has recently been the subject of a near-assassination. In a bid to restore the king’s faculties, a deal is struck with Shai – she must forge the Emperor’s soul in exchange for her freedom and her personal “soulstamps”. The story is about the hundred days that Shai is offered to go about her task, trapped within a sealed room under the watchful eyes of Strikers and one man, Gaotona, who might be the only redeeming factor in an otherwise politically-motivated, power-hungry retinue.
Will Shai succeed? Well, what really is success to her? This is best left as a journey for a reader to embark upon himself/herself. Brandon Sanderson’s in-depth understanding of humans, emotions and motivations mixed with yet another new system of magic continues to leave me with a sense of wonder and I can’t wait to pick up another work of his.

Subjective Rating : 4.5/5.0